Tiger Woods is a complicated hero. Arguably the greatest golfer who ever lived and the most dominant athlete in any sport during his prime, Tiger Woods eventually proved himself to be human as well. Adulterer, truculent, cheapskate (sorry, but the cheapness just bothers the crap out of me for some reason), are words that have also come to mind for those attempting to define Tiger.
He busted onto the scene like a controlled tornado. You couldn’t look away. He decimated everything and everyone in his path. There wasn’t a tournament he couldn’t win and there wasn’t anything remotely resembling a rival aside from his own inner demons.
We saw signs of it. For every Tiger Woods fist pump, there was a Tiger Woods fit of rage. But, whether he was draining clutch putts or losing his grip on his emotions over a slightly imperfect swing, Tiger demanded our attention. There was nothing like the Tiger cheer from the crowd. For every challenge the golf world threw at him, there was a roaring response from the man they call Tiger.
You knew you were watching history as it was unfolding. It was not a question of if, but when he would catch Jack Nicklaus’ 18 career major championships. And then it all fell apart, first with the death of his father and mentor, and then came that one fateful night in an SUV. We know what happened next. A failed marriage and four back surgeries later, Tiger Woods wasn’t just teetering, he was unraveling down to a 1,005 world ranking in 2017. Tiger, the golf hero, had perished . . . Or so we thought.
But just as the hero’s quest tells us, there would be a rebirth from the abyss. Just like the heroes of mythology, Tiger atoned. He vowed to be a better father. He vowed to be a better person. And then, could it be? An ascent? A return to greatness?
We went from “Will Tiger make another cut?” to “Will Tiger win another tournament?” to “Wait, can Tiger win a major?” to yesterday at The Masters. Sunday. Augusta National. The hero had come full circle, ready to give the clamoring public the gift of his talent and the spectacle of his raw emotion.
Tiger Woods fulfilled the hero’s quest. But is it over? Was this his last hurrah or did we just watch golf’s version of Michael Jordan learning how to dominate from the mid-post? Will Tiger go back to his old ways or is this new, repentant, humbled, and even at times, joyous, human being here to stay?
People rooted for Tiger Woods on Sunday because, despite his immense talent, he’s still one of us: a flawed human being trying to earn his way to the top despite a myriad of obstacles both from outside and within. On Sunday we saw a patient man bide his time and strike when he needed to. We heard his roar and then saw a victorious and vindicated Tiger cry into the arms of his children. Who couldn’t understand and feel that? A man in his shining moment wanting to share it with his beloved family. It doesn’t get more storybook than that, right?
But then, if only for a few seconds, we also saw the old Tiger as well. He walked ahead of his son, through the crowd, arms raised, basking in the moment he had worked so hard for. Tiger may be, and may not be, a lot of things, but there’s one thing he’ll always be . . . The People’s Champion. Are you not entertained?